Bobby Chacko is an experienced CPG executive and entrepreneur. He has spent the last 25 years as a transformational leader driving equality, progress, sustainability, and innovation across multiple industries, including food, beverage, alcohol, wireless technology, and financial services.
What’s the biggest difference between a company that’s doing just okay and one that’s growing off the charts? Bobby Chacko says it can be summed up in one word – innovation.
“Aided by ever-increasing technology, the business world is evolving rapidly. To survive, businesses have to adapt. To thrive, they must create meaningful change and disruption in their industries. When you foster a culture of innovation, you’re doing more than just staying ahead of the competition – you’re creating your own marketplace,” says Bobby Chacko.
“When you need ideas on how to improve, you can’t rely only on the members of your leadership team,” warns Bobby Chacko. “You need input from all levels of the company. No matter how good a leader you or your team members are, I guarantee that you are out of touch with the day-to-day of your employees. That’s the nature of quality leadership – you’re hiring people that you trust to do their jobs well.”
But the cost of that comes with a sort of “bubble effect,” says Bobby Chacko. “The people doing the work are the ones who understand the ins and outs. Ask them how they would make their workflow more efficient, or what would make their lives easier or more streamlined. I promise they’ll have a few ideas.”
While you’re at it, make sure that these teams are communicating across company silos. “Teams that communicate and engage with cross-functional teams, and with leadership backing, tend to be more successful than others,” says Chacko.
And while not all of the ideas will be realistic from a practical or financial point of view, just by inviting your employees to the table, you’re encouraging them to look at their work critically. “The vision and strategy of your business must guide the span of innovation and ideas,” says Bobby Chacko. “If your employees don’t have a firm grasp on those then innovation for innovation’s sake can lead you in the wrong direction. Make sure you’re all pulling in the same direction.”
And remember that no matter how innovative your employees are, your leadership team has to be on board to create a true culture of innovation. “Internal innovation processes can be great or riddled with bureaucracy, put in the right leaders – empowered, and with a sense of urgency to mobilize and execute – if you want innovation to thrive,” says Chacko.
To encourage and foster true innovation, you need to give your people the encouragement, time, and budget that they need to be successful. While it can be tempting to think that throwing money at them will solve all your problems, Bobby Chacko says that time is actually the most precious resource you can offer.
“We’re all so bogged down by the day in and day out of our jobs,” says Bobby Chacko. “When you don’t have a set-aside time dedicated to brainstorming, testing, research, and recalibration, those things simply won’t happen. You have to make time to work on your business instead of just in it.”
Bobby Chacko suggests setting aside an afternoon – or a day if possible – each week that is purely dedicated to brainstorming and troubleshooting. Clear calendars, set up automatic email replies, and really give your team a chance to dig in. “Before you start, discuss the goals, strategy, and vision of the company to set a framework for what you’re trying to accomplish,” advises Chacko. “That way you ensure innovation is serving the larger purpose of your company.”
“You’ll be amazed by the results,” promises Chacko.
Just make sure that you’re choosing the right people when you’re doling out resources. “There’s a lot of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in innovation projects. Everyone wants to be a part of them and have their say. But you have to have some form of secrecy or you run the risk of your great ideas being leaked before you can solidify and patent or copyright them. Have the right people sign NDA’s, bring them into the fold, and give them tasks to do. Otherwise, the internal mob will kill projects outside the teams,” warns Chacko.
Second-guessing can stifle creativity. It’s like improv – you have to ‘yes and’ to follow an idea through and see it’s real potential. When everyone commits, you can make impossible ideas a reality. “Yes it’s important to consider your consumer when you’re coming up with a new product or a new marketing campaign, but overthinking can lead to paralyzation,” says Chacko. He advises that you should trust your gut, take the big risks, and let the consumers decide if they’re ready for the next big thing themselves.
“And you want to avoid years of innovation testing at all costs,” warns Bobby Chacko. “There is no prize for being last in a new category with a late great product – speed is critical in building categories in the minds of consumers and retailers. Stop overthinking, grab a great idea, and run with it. If you fail, you fail. Failure should be an acceptable metric for innovation, it helps scientists and product managers to try new things and push boundaries…. thus it’s innovation.”
Bobby tells us that one of his favorite mantras is “Fail fast, fail cheap, fail forward.”